By Sandy McDaniel
A parent is training each child to be a successful human being. Success in one’s personal life usually involves living in a home or apartment, which must be cared for. Beds need changing, dishes need washing, floors need mopping, furniture needs dusting, bathrooms need cleaning, rugs need vacuuming, etc. If your children, because they were not given chores, neither know how to do the chores nor know that they exist, their living abodes will be atrocious.
Summertime is a great time to train your children to do chores. Make a list of all efforts that need to be made in order to take care of your home. Initial the chores appropriate to each child’s age. Create a chart with chores and the child whose responsibility it will be to do each chore. It is best to have a consequence for failing to do a chore. I had three or four highly undesirable chores on a separate list. “Forgot one chore, get two – and you will do both chores right now,” I told my children when they were young.
Another consequence is to extend your no-media-time rule (something every parent needs to create). Chore infractions cost a child an hour off his or her allowed media time – and before they get any media time at all, all chores must be completed. The point of a consequence is to catch a child’s attention, to make “forgetting” to do something simply not worth it.
Children tend to resist doing anything that gets them criticism or embraces failure. It is therefore best to give a lesson on each chore. I remember a time when my then 9-year-old son did a horrible job of loading a dishwasher. I asked him to join me in the kitchen, and I said to him: “I want to apologize to you for not teaching you how to properly load our dishwasher. Please take everything out of the dishwasher and put it on the counters.”
He told me that he could straighten it out, to which I replied: “Let’s help you do a better job with a lesson. I’ll talk to you while you unload it.”
Once he unloaded all the dishes and silverware, I totally made up a speech on how they designed a dishwasher. I intentionally talked slowly and did so with painful detail.
“Now, I will talk to you while you re-load the dishwasher.”
He was not happy. His first moves were abrupt, an attempt to broadcast that he was upset.
“I recommend you slow down and take it easy on the dishwasher – there’s a consequence for breaking something.”
When he finished the whole job, he closed the dishwasher, glared at me, and asked, “Are you happy now?”
I smiled… “You’re not in control of my happiness. Thanks for doing such a good job.”
Children need to learn how to wash, dry, and put away their clothes. A 3- and 4-year-old can sort laundry. Put a large blanket on the floor, dump the clean laundry in the middle, assign a corner to each child, and the “youngins” can make a pile of their clothes. At 5 years of age, a child can sort, then fold their own clothes and put them away. A lesson in how to fold clothes will make it unnecessary to create the “dishwasher” experience above.
From 9 years old and up, children can wash their own clothes. First a lesson in how much detergent to use, and which fabrics need to be washed separately, is appropriate, then put a calendar over the washing machine. Encourage your children to sign up to use the machines ahead of time, mostly to avoid the everyone-remembers-they-need-to-wash-on-Sunday-night drama.
A digital timer attached to some yarn makes it less likely a child who washes a load of clothes will forget to put them in the dryer – and then take them out of the dryer to fold and put away. My son put all his T-shirts on hangers so he didn’t need to fold them.
A parent might need to interrupt a TV show or video game with, “You signed up for the washing machine so you need to use it right now. No arguments. For each minute you argue with me about this, 10 minutes will be taken off of your media time. It starts now.”
It takes time and patience to teach children to do their chores. It seems that it would be easier to “do it myself.” It might be, but by giving them chores, you are teaching time management, how to care for a living space, how to take care of themselves, and how to be a functioning part of a family unit. In learning to take care of themselves, they will then be capable of taking care of others.
For more than 55 years, Sandy McDaniel has been an international speaker and recognized authority on families and children. Author of five books, columnist, founder of parentingsos.com, she is a resident of Meridian and loves spending time with her three Idaho grandchicks. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or go to YouTube:Sandy Spurgeon McDaniel to see videos on specific parenting issues.